‘Comfort women’ foundation may be dissolved

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‘Comfort women’ foundation may be dissolved

President Moon Jae-in hinted Tuesday that he may dissolve a controversial foundation set up with Japan to settle the so-called comfort women issue.

In his summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Moon said the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation “was not functioning properly due to opposition from victims and local citizens,” and that they will need to “tie up loose ends wisely,” according to Blue House spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom.

In December 2015, Korea’s former Park Geun-hye administration and Abe’s administration struck a deal aimed at resolving the issue of Korean victims of the Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery, who numbered in the thousands. Only 27 survive today.

The agreement included an apology from the Japanese government and a 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) fund for victims.

The two countries called the agreement “final and irreversible,” but some survivors and civic groups that support them rejected the agreement, saying Japan failed to take legal responsibility for the victims.

The fund from Japan established the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, whose role initially included management of the fund.

But the Korean government in July decided to replace the 1 billion yen with a fund from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, citing victims’ dissatisfaction with the Japanese fund. It has not announced details on what it will do with the 1 billion yen from the Japanese government.

Meanwhile, local protests against the foundation and the fund have been growing.

“We didn’t fight for this just to get compensated,” said Kim Bok-dong, a 92-year-old survivor, as she staged a protest outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs against the foundation earlier this month. “Even if you offer us 100 billion won [$89 million], we won’t take it. We told the government to return it, and they’re still not doing it.”

Though Moon hinted at dissolving the foundation, in his meeting with Abe Moon said he would not seek the “cancellation of the comfort women deal or request renegotiation,” Kim said.

“The president also did not mention anything about returning the 1 billion yen,” Kim told reporters after the summit.

Kim added that Abe was the first to bring up the comfort women issue during the summit meeting and that Moon commented about the foundation in response.

The Japanese government, however, did not relay Moon’s comments on the foundation to Japanese press.

“President Moon explained the state of the foundation, but we will not detail his comments here,” said Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura in a press briefing after the summit. “Prime Minister Abe spoke of the importance of following through with the comfort women agreement, and President Moon said he will not cancel the agreement or request a renegotiation.”

Some observers said the Japanese government may interpret the dissolution of the foundation as a de facto annulment of the 2015 deal.

“Japan will interpret the dissolution of the foundation as a violation or cancellation of the comfort women agreement,” a Korean diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Japan has some strong internal opposition to this news.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Obuchi-Kim Declaration, which was signed by leaders of the two countries to improve relations. It marked the first time that an apology from Japan for its conduct during World War II was included in a bilateral declaration. There are reports that Moon will visit Japan for the declaration’s anniversary in October, though the two governments have not confirmed it. Nevertheless, the two leaders reaffirmed their cooperation regarding North Korea.

Abe spoke of resolving the abductee issue and pursuing dialogue and improvement of relations with North Korea, for which he sought the South Korean government’s assistance, Kim said.

“I believe that normalization of North-Japan relations is crucial in the process of establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon told Abe. “I will actively support and provide cooperation for the realization of a North-Japan summit.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG, WIE MOON-HEE [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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